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Thread: handle length

  1. #1

    handle length

    It seems most commercial tool handles are 8,12,16,20, or larger. I'm curious what your go to length is for different gouges? Most instruction talk about anchoring the tool to your hip or thigh, of course it has to be long enough so I assume a shorter handle would be for more delicate work?

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    E TN, near Knoxville
    As you assumed, for me it very much depends on what I'm turning. I have some 6" handles and I have some about 20". Without walking to the shop to measure, I think the handles I use the most are probably about 12".

    For small spindle work, short handles are often desired since they are easier to move - turning beads and cove shapes often requires a lot of movement and you can't support the handle end against your body. A longer handle just gets in the way. I also like shorter handles when turning thin spindles since I usually hold the tool close to the rest in one hand, steady the end of the handle against the under part of my forearm, and support the wood with the other hand. On one of my favorite spindle gouges I just slip a small rubber handle on the shaft which gives me plenty of grip. When used with finesse instead of brute force there is never a need for a "real" handle. When I first started turning I didn't know how to use skill instead of power and I needed long handles.

    I use a lot of tools with no handles. Negative rake scrapers used for smoothing need no handles since there should never be any force on the tool. I use a variety of small scrapers without handles on things like lidded boxes. I make these from steel maybe 6 to 8" long.

    I like medium-length handles for teaching the basics to beginners with the skew since the tool control is easier to learn when the end of the handle is anchored against the body, but with some experience that's not as important.

    For large turnings where larger forces may be encountered the longer handles are important. However, it might depend somewhat on the tool. For example, I often use the small Hunter Hercules tool for bowls and platters and with good control there is seldom if ever much force on the tool. Using the larger Hercules or a bowl gouge and taking aggressive cuts needs a good grip.

    If you visit Frank Penta's shop you will see a row of tools on the wall behind the big lathe. All of these have short handles, made to hold in one hand. Frank said this was the norm "in the trades" for spindle turning.

    If I were turning massive bowls, I'd use long handles. If hollowing large vessels I'd use long handles and sturdy tools.

    Here is a typical "2-handed" handle for spindle turning, and a couple of "1-handers":



  3. #3
    I think it depends on your style of turning. There are folks whose style is best served by a long handle “anchored at the hip.” I didn’t benefit from lessons or anyone teaching me to turn and kind of found my own way. I evolved into more of a finesse turner as my work is more artsy in nature. Were I a production bowl turner I may have developed a different style. As it is my bowl gouges are in 16” D-Way handles and my spindle gouges are in 8” D-Way handles and those suit my style of turning quite well. The spindle gouges are inserted deeper into the handle so the amount of exposed tool is less. As JKJ noted, there is little stress on a spindle gouge and it is all about fluid control.

    Left click my name for homepage link.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    TX, NM or on the road
    I turn some miniatures, as in dollhouse stuff, my chisels are about the size of mid sized screwdrivers, in fact some are converted screwdrivers.

  5. #5
    Stuart Batty has a video or two up on handle length, relative to the tool you are using. It is a fairly good starting point. More than anything I would say the size of the tool and size of the cutting edge is the important part, the bigger the cutting edge, the more handle you need, well, except for hollowing tools. I don't think I have any handles longer than about 14 inches. More than anything, if I 'feel' that the tool is getting grabby from hanging out too far, I move the tool rest closer. This is just a way to save extra hard work... Some of my box tools, I will use without a handle, but I am reaching out an inch off the tool rest and have about 5 or 6 inches on the other side of the tool rest.

    Most of the time, I have my tools held level, which is not common, and the handle is braced under my forearm. I feel I have better control that way. If I am doing shear scraping, then the handle is dropped, but I am only taking whisper cuts, very delicate.

    robo hippy

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    E TN, near Knoxville
    Quote Originally Posted by Reed Gray View Post
    ...the bigger the cutting edge, the more handle you need, well, except for hollowing tools...
    Good points. But I think maybe except for skews too. There is so little force on a skew I've been known to use a wide skew without a handle - for normal cuts only a tiny part of the edge is cutting (except for LARGE diameter spindles!!) But that's something I would never teach - the handle (even a fairly short handle) definately helps with the stability and fine control of the cut, especially while learning.


  7. #7
    I have several tool handle lengths and for roughing green bowls I have the longest one I think is 22 inches 3/4 bowl gouge. I anchor it low hence the length the shortest handle is about 10 inches. I make my own mostly and I like to use the handle to balance the tool. Most of my handles are about 12-14" or 16-17. They vary. I think the important part is the tools that will hang further over the rest need longer handles so if you use curved rests and all your turnings keep you close to the work with very little overhang there would be no need for long handles. I use longer handles on bowl gouges because of the reach but the truth is I use longer handles just in case I get a catch. I rarely get one these days but I do from time to time. I also tend to take heavy cuts with the bigger gouges 3/4 and 5/8 my finish cut tools have much shorter handles.

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